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Grilled Whole Wild Salmon with Preserved Lemon and Fennel

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Serves 6 to 8

This showstopping main course is perfect for a summer cookout or celebration. The salmon comes off the grill juicy and tender, perfumed with the preserved lemon-fennel stuffing and deeply seasoned from the cumin-and-garlic-spiked spice paste rubbed into the skin and cavity. Serve with grilled zucchini and eggplant, and warm flatbread.

  • 1 6- to 8-lb. whole wild salmon, gutted and scaled (ask your fishmonger to do this)
  • 1 medium preserved lemon, rinsed, pulp and peel separated, and seeded
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3 medium cloves garlic
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. hot paprika
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 small fennel bulb, halved, cored, and cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices; fronds reserved for garnish
  • 5 to 6 thick toothpicks or wooden skewers, soaked in cold water for 30 minutes
  • Vegetable or canola oil, as needed
  • All-purpose flour, as needed
  • Fresh lemon slices, for garnish

Using kitchen shears, cut off the salmon’s top fins and the fins just behind the gills. Rinse the fish well inside and out and pat dry with paper towels. Using a sharp boning knife, cut deep diagonal slashes almost to the bone 3 inches apart on both sides of the fish.

With a mini food processor or mortar and pestle, blend the preserved lemon pulp, cilantro, garlic, olive oil, cumin, paprika, 2 tsp. salt, and 1 tsp. pepper to a smooth paste. Rub the paste into the salmon’s cavity and side slashes. Cut the preserved lemon peel into pieces and stuff them into the cavity along with the fennel slices. Poke the tip of a sharp paring knife through the belly flaps at even intervals, then weave the toothpicks through the holes to close the cavity. Let stand at room temperature while preparing the grill.

Prepare a hot charcoal or gas grill fire for direct grilling. Clean and oil the grill grates 3 times at 10-minute intervals, covering the grill between oilings.

Adjust a gas grill to medium heat (325°F to 350°F); for a charcoal grill, wait until you can hold your hand about 6 inches above the grate for 4 seconds.

Measure the thickness of the fish right behind its gills and calculate 10 minutes of grilling time per inch for medium rare.

Thoroughly pat the salmon dry with paper towels, wiping any excess paste off the skin. Dust one side of the fish with flour and then brush liberally with oil. Oil the grill again and place the fish on the grill floured side down, with the belly facing you. Leave enough room behind it to roll the salmon over later.

Cover and grill the fish for half of the calculated time. Wrap the tail fin with foil if it begins to scorch.

Dust the top side of the fish with flour, and brush liberally with oil. Slide 2 large spatulas underneath the fish, gently loosening any places where the skin may have stuck, and roll it over onto the second side. Cover and continue to grill for the remaining time, or until an instant read thermometer inserted horizontally into the thickest part of the fish without touching bone registers 125°F for medium rare, 135°F for medium, and 145°F for well done.

Carefully slide the two spatulas under the fish at the head and tail ends and transfer to a platter. Tent loosely with foil and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

Carve and serve the salmon

Remove the toothpicks, and transfer the fennel at the opening of the cavity to a small serving bowl. Carefully peel back the skin from one side of the fish and lightly season the flesh with salt. Using a slotted spatula, remove the flesh from the bones in sections (see step-by-step photos of how to carve a whole salmon). Scrape the remaining fennel into the bowl; discard the preserved lemon.

Use the spatula to hold the bottom flesh down and then carefully lift up and discard the spine. Lightly season the bottom flesh and remove it in sections, leaving the skin behind. Serve the salmon with the fennel stuffing.

nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 350; Fat (g): fat g 14; Fat Calories (kcal): 120; Saturated Fat (g): sat fat g 2.5; Protein (g): protein g 54; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 5; Carbohydrates (g): carbs g 3; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 3.5; Sodium (mg): sodium mg 410; Cholesterol (mg): cholesterol mg 135; Fiber (g): fiber g 1;

Photo: Scott Phillips

This is a fantastic way to cook fresh Sockeye. Made it exactly as described and everyone loved it. Very easy to make as well.

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